What's happened?

Barn owl numbers have declined since the 1970s mainly due to a loss of their habitat, food supply and nest sites, combined with a number of threats.

  • Loss of habitat and hedgerows - Rough grassland is important for barn owls as it provides the perfect habitat for their prey, small mammals, providing plenty of cover. Lack of this rough grassland can have a devastating effect on the populations of small mammals. As a result barn owls find it difficult to find food which can have an impact on whether they choose to breed.  
  • Loss of nest sites - Through the conversion of old buildings and barns the number of potential nest sites is being reduced.
  • Traffic - One of the common killers of the barn owl is traffic. In some cases the rough grassland feeding habitat has been divided by major roads, forcing the barn owls to fly over roads when out hunting. Barn owls fly close to the ground (up to 3 metres) when hunting, so when they fly over major roads they are susceptible to being hit by vehicles. Uncut roadside verges create ideal habitat for voles and other other small mammals, attracting hunting barn owls. 
  • Harsh weather - Prolonged wet weather conditions can have a severe effect on barn owl survival. Many die from starvation under severe conditions, as they struggle to find prey.
  • Water troughs - Barn owls will use farm water troughs to bathe or drink, especially females during the breeding season. Once in they find it extremely difficult to get out, resulting in drowning. This can be avoided by placing an object that floats in the trough which allows the bird to climb on if she falls in to then dry before flying off.
  • Poison - The vast majority of rat poisons used these days are highly toxic SGARs (Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides), which can result in secondary poisoning in birds of prey. when nesting in barns barn owls will often come across poisoned dead rats, which are easy prey.